DeKalb CEO updates residents on consent decree

On Aug. 23 a record 6.4 million gallons of sewage spilled into Snapfinger Creek because of a tree growing out of a concrete junction box. The spill was an oversight by the county, county officials said.

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said the county is working to prevent future spills like the one at Snapfinger and are adhering to the measures of the consent decree.

In a meeting open to the public, Thurmond updated residents on the progress of the county fulfilling its consent decree and how its progress was delayed.

“We addressed serious watershed staffing issues by increasing personnel budget and hiring additional professional engineers, modelers, flow monitoring personnel, and maintenance, response and repair crews.” Thurmond said.

DeKalb County entered into a consent decree in 2011 with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia Environmental Protection Division.  The consent decree requires the county to clean, repair, enlarge and maintain its sanitary sewer pipes so sewer overflows are reduced.

According to Thurmond, DeKalb County will invest $79 million for significant sewer maintenance. Repairs will begin in June.

“We completed $22 million worth of sewer maintenance and sewer rehabilitation to address issues within our department,” Thurmond said.

Thurmond said the first phase of the $79 million investment will address sewer overflow issues while the second will address infrastructure improvement.    

The county’s watershed department has received a lot of criticism lately, from sewer spills to a 48-inch pipe bursting near Buford Highway and the resignation of a top watershed official who accused the county of “unlawful actions.”
Thurmond said the county’s consent decree progress was delayed from 2011 to 2014. During that time, the county failed to select a consent decree program manager, which resulted in programs, maintenance, assessments and rehabilitation projects not being completed. The county also failed to budget for staff and resources needed to develop and implement consent decree programs, according to county officials.
“We’re trying to become better at what we do,” said acting Watershed Management Director Reggie Wells. “We’ve increased our efforts to proactively locate spill locations to prevent impacts to the environment. We’ve also increased our fats, oil and grease initiatives and education.”

According to the county, 60 percent of sewer overflows in DeKalb County are caused by residents and businesses pouring fats, oils or grease down sinks and drains.

Thurmond said reported sewer spills dropped 31 percent in the first quarter of 2018 compared with the first quarter of 2017.

“We hesitated to even put this information in here and then at the last minute I said, ‘nope, it’s a fact,’” said Thurmond to a crowd of approximately 100 people. “It’s not a trend yet. We will continue to monitor, but this is a fact based on aggressive reporting and the work that these men and women have done. It’s just a fact.”

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